At this point last year, Gilbert Brule was considered by many fans and pundits to be one of the cornerstones of the Edmonton Oilers’ rebuilding effort. Management evidently agreed; while (smartly) low-balling Andrew Cogliano, they offered Brule a two-year, $3.7-million contract
Unfortunately, Brule proved incapable of building on a breakout 2009-10, and this past season played in 24 less games (down to 41 from 65) while watching his point totals drop down to less than a quarter of what he managed the year before.
What do the Oilers do with him now?
Other Stuff That Happened
One of Brule’s problems is that his best-case scenario role on an NHL team is as a complementary scorer, and the Oilers are bursting at the seams with young offensive talent. Over this last season, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have progressed to the point of being legitimate NHL scorers now, while Magnus Paajarvi’s rookie season was on par with Brule’s breakthrough effort. Beyond the three blue-chippers, Linus Omark has worked his way up from the American Hockey League and is probably above Brule on the depth chart at this point – and even he is on the outside looking in for top-six work. Then there’s the potential addition of a player like Nugent-Hopkins, Couturier or Landeskog to the mix via the Oilers’ first overall pick.
This season represented Brule’s best chance to establish himself as part of the Oilers’ core group of forwards as they rebuild, and the cost of that missed opportunity is clear: it will be much harder for him to work his way back into contention for a long-term job, especially on a scoring line.
The Buyout Option
One of the interesting things about Brule’s situation is that thanks to his age – he won’t turn 25 until January 1, 2012 – he finds himself in the same buyout ‘sweet spot’ that Patrick O’Sullivan and Robert Nilsson did last season, where the team only needs to spend one-third of the remaining dollars on his contract rather than twice that amount for an older player. Here’s the breakdown, courtesy of Cap Geek:
Gilbert Brule buyout from CapGeek.com:
- 2011-12: $308,333
- 2012-13: $308,333
It is a pretty minimal expense, really. If the team thought they could get a better performance from a player available via free agency for $1.0 million or so, they would be saving both money and cap space.
What I Expect
I don’t expect that the Oilers will buy out Brule, although I do think that there’s a case for it (his season this year was arguably worse than either O’Sullivan’s or Nilsson’s). The optics are worse (given that Tambellini just signed him a year ago, as opposed to acquiring him via trade for a free agent or inheriting him from Lowe), and there simply isn’t the same demand for blood from the fan-base as there was a year ago, though I think those are more auxiliary than primary issues.
I think there are two main reasons that we will see another year of Brule. First, it’s easy to call this year a write-off: when a player misses half the games, it’s not much of an assumption to guess that he was well below 100% for many of the games that he played in. Second, Brule combines potential goal-scoring ability with a high-energy, physical game, something that wasn’t the case for a player like Nilsson or O’Sullivan.
I expect that we will see Gilbert Brule on the opening night roster, most likely as a winger/secondary faceoff man on the Oilers’ fourth line.